The twist is one reflection of the novel's shrewd pacing. When the surprise comes, it doesn't hit you upside the head. Instead, it is almost casually disclosed as the narrator puzzles over recent stupefying changes in his life. This approach leaves you thinking the revelation is no more than a random thought until it actually sinks in within the next few pages and drastically changes your perspective. Leaving the initial chapter to engage in the lengthy look at the past also helps Harkaway draw a distinction between the at least semi-real pre-war world and the totally surreal nature of the post-war world and all it implies. And regardless of which world we're in, there is a persistent touch of wit that creates a refreshing overtone in this realm of myth.
As this all suggests, for the most part Harkaway's writing borders on marvelous. If there's a problem, it is a tendency to overwrite, not in the sense of pretentious language but perhaps spending too much time detailing a scene, a character, a conversation or a discourse. In addition, there's another surprise near the end of The Gone-Away World that isn't quite as smooth as the earlier bombshell. Yet to expect an author to not stumble over the course of more than 500 pages is unrealistic.
Anytime you can combine ninjas, mime troupes, military and political satire, an apocalypse and a love story and still hold on to and please the reader, you've accomplished quite a feat. To do so with your first novel is an even greater accomplishment.